Chevrolet Cruze is an excellent choice among compact sedans, and is one of the best-selling cars in the Chevy lineup. It has a roomy interior, admirable fuel economy and a long list of standard features. This front-wheel-drive, four-door sedan seats up to five people.
New for 2014 is a diesel model that achieves a notable, EPA-estimated 27/46 mpg City/Highway, fitted with a turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel four-cylinder engine that makes 151 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque. The Cruze diesel comes standard with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Other Cruze models carry over unchanged for 2014.
Launched as a 2011 model, the Cruze is a compact sedan developed jointly by GM tech centers in Asia, Europe and the United States to compete with the stylish Hyundai Elantra, sporty Mazda3, and affordable Kia Forte, as well as the sales-leading compacts, the Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla.
Styling of the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze is conservative, though it’s a well-designed, handsome car. Its interior is one of the roomiest in its class, and it’s also one of the nicest. Its trunk is also one of the largest in a compact sedan.
Cruze is offered with a choice of two four-cylinder gasoline engines: Cruze LS models get a 1.8-liter inline-4 that makes 138 hp and 125 lb.-ft. of torque. Cruze LT, LTZ and Eco models are powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder good for 138 hp and 148 lb.-ft. of torque. Transmission choices include a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic.
Fuel economy is admirable from the turbocharged 1.4-liter, at 26/38 mpg City/Highway with both transmissions. Fuel economy for the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze with the base 1.8-liter engine is an EPA-rated 25/36 mpg City/Highway with manual transmission and 22/35 mpg with the automatic. Cruze Eco, the most fuel-efficient regular gasoline model, rates 28/42 mpg with the manual transmission and 26/39 mpg with the automatic.
Ride quality is quite good, and we found the Cruze handles well. It is slower compared to many cars in its class, but for everyday driving, the average person won’t notice. The Cruze Eco is perhaps the biggest compromise; though it achieves a high fuel economy rating, efficiency comes with a penalty in the form of even slower acceleration, longer stopping distances and poorer handling compared to the less fuel-friendly Cruze models. Those who drive long distances at highway speeds would do well to opt for the Cruze diesel. Although it has a higher starting price, its superior range and highway fuel economy makes for a better value long-term.
Cruze comes well-equipped with features that are not always standard on cars of its class, such as a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. On all trims but the base, the wheels are made of alloy, and are not only lighter than steel, but quieter. Prices climb by nearly $10,000 from the base model to a loaded, top-of-the-line LTZ. True, the latter comes swathed in leather and loaded with technology, but for that kind of money, the alternatives include larger, very nicely equipped midsize sedans. For this reason, we think the midrange Cruze LT hits the sweet spot in this class.
The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze is slightly bigger than many compact cars, yet not quite as big as those in the midsize segment. Competitors include the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3 and the new Toyota Corolla. Those considering the 2014 Cruze Diesel might also want to look at the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, which starts at about $1,800 less and gets slightly better combined fuel economy with an EPA rating of 30/42 mpg City/Highway. But the Cruze diesel wins when it comes strictly to highway mpg.
The styling of the Chevrolet Cruze is handsome and nicely proportioned.
The Cruze is large, as compact cars go. Measuring 181.0 inches bumper-to-bumper, on a wheelbase of 105.7 inches, the Cruze is slightly larger than most of its competitors, including the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus.
Cruze is more angular than other recent Chevrolet sedans, including the popular Malibu. Its front end mimics the Volt plug-in sedan with a prominent Chevrolet Bowtie logo. The headlight housings are large, sweeping upward and around the front edges of the car.
The roofline arcs subtly from its steeply raked windshield through fast-sloping rear pillars, creating a generally sporty profile. Its wheels are pushed out to the corners of the car, with minimal overhang. No, this compact sedan doesn’t break new ground or wow with its curves. But it’s tidy and quite confidant looking, and the package generates a feeling of quality and solidity. Wheels range from 16-inch steel with plastic covers on the base LS to spoked 18-inch alloys with low-profile tires on the loaded LTZ.
The Cruze Eco is a slightly different beast from the other Cruze models, because it’s designed to be Chevrolet’s conventional-engine fuel economy leader. The differences start with 42 steps intended to trim weight, right down the size and location of welds in the body. As a result, the Eco tips the scales at 3009 pounds, or 214 pounds less than the comparably equipped mid-level Cruze LT. Cruze Eco adds a host of aerodynamic tweaks, including some adapted from the Chevrolet Volt. These start with active grille shutters that close at higher speeds, blocking much of the grille surface when the cooling demands of the engine allow it, and smoothing air flow over the front of the car. The Eco also sports a lower front air-dam extension, plastic panels that cover large portions of the underbody and a carefully crafted rear spoiler. It’s finished with low-rolling-resistance tires on specially designed rims. That means a bit less braking performance or grip through the corners, but it also means less friction when the Eco is cruising along for better fuel economy.
The Chevrolet Cruze is roomy inside, with ample dimensions in most directions. The cabin is finished nicely with quality materials. Sound deadening measures result in quiet operation. Overall, the Cruze cabin delivers an excellent balance of quality, coziness and space to breathe.
Cruze is near the top of the class for the look, fit and feel of the materials inside. The seams join with tighter tolerances than those in many other cars, including some of those a class or two above. The textiles and plastics are rich, appealing and nicely grained, and the metallic trim looks good. The fabric used for the door inserts matches that used on the seat cushions, and it flows from the doors across the bottom of the dash. It’s unique, and visually inviting.
The leather upholstery that’s optional is thick, yet supple, and stretched tightly over the seats. The headliner is form fit with a soft, sturdy knit material, and it’s only the outer layer of five in the roof’s insulation. About the only thing not up to snuff is some hard plastic at the bottom of the door pillars, and while no one will look at it much, it’s stands out as sub-par because everything else is so nice.
The front-seat adjustments in the Cruze allow occupants to find the right spot quickly and easily. The optional power controls for the driver are just as easy to use, and the tilting seat bottom has more range, from steep angle to nearly flat, than one finds in some luxury cars. There’s plenty of fore-aft travel for drivers well over six feet tall, with even more front headroom. If anything comes up short, it’s width. Published figures rank Cruze at the top of the class in front hip room, but the center console is on the wide side. Larger drivers who drive with their legs splayed may find their outer thighs or knees rubbing on the dash or door panel. You can drive better with knees closer together, anyway, a position that’s better for braking and downshifting.
The steering wheel is thick and grippy; with the optional leather, it feels great in the hands. The wheel tilts and telescopes in all models, and we applaud Chevrolet for adding redundant audio controls on its right spoke on all but the base LS. The cruise-control switches on the left spoke are the best in the business. There’s an on/off master switch and a big cancel button, sandwiching a thumbwheel that flicks down to set or add speed, and up to resume or reduce speed.
Gauges are big and crisp, illuminated with ice-blue LED lighting. With the RS appearance package, they’re trimmed with chrome and covered with bezels that make them pop even more in darkness. The tachometer is located on the left and the speedometer on the right, with smaller fuel and temperature gauges in the middle. Underneath the smaller gauges, a digital display shows current gear, direction of travel, and a host of options for vehicle or travel information. It’s easy to cycle through the choices with a toggle on the turn signal stalk, and just as easy to set preferences for automatic vehicle locking and the like. Again, it’s impressive in a compact.
The center stack of switches looks great, though a bit complicated at first blush. In fact, it’s rationally laid out and easy to learn. There are four large, primary knobs for volume, tuning, fan speed and temperature, each ringed with a nice rubber surround. They turn with a satisfying feel that conveys the amount of adjustment just by the amount of movement. Other switches are pushbuttons, with entertainment and information high, between the dash vents and just below a large display screen. Climate controls are at the bottom. There’s a single, large pushbutton to cycle through all the various airflow-direction options.
Cars equipped with navigation have Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system, which is compatible with iPhones and Android-powered smartphones. MyLink lets users pair their phones via Bluetooth, or tether with a USB cable. We were pleasantly surprised to find that if we had a destination set via the maps app on our iPhone 5s, and it was plugged in via USB, MyLink would automatically show directions on the Cruze’s navigation screen and pipe directions through the speakers, without having to pair the phone or do anything special. MyLink also immediately recognizes the audio on the iPhone 5s when it’s plugged in.
Storage space inside the Cruze is adequate, if not overwhelming. There’s a handy covered bin in the dash above the center stack. It can keep a phone, wallet or remote stored out of sight, and it’s lined with rubber to minimize sliding. The pockets at the bottom of the front door panels are decently sized, but the hard plastic generates an annoying sound when a CD case slides forward under braking. The glove box is fairly spacious, but the console box is fairly small, with enough room for an MP3 player when it’s plugged into the port inside. There are two cupholders in the center console.
The rear seat isn’t fancy, but it’s roomy and impressively supportive. The cushions for outboard passengers are carved, countered and bolstered almost as much as the front seats in some inexpensive cars. The downside is that the third space in the middle is narrow and flat, and not well suited for anyone past age seven or eight. This is really a four-passenger car. The outside passengers, though, will find plenty of headroom and decent legroom, with enough space under the front seats to easily accommodate large feet.
There’s a power point for rear passengers on the back of the console, but no air vents. Those in back will have to rely on the center dome light, because there are no reading lights, either. The fold-down center rear armrest stops exactly at the height of the armrests on the doors, so elbows can rest evenly. The armrest has decent cupholders for those in back, but storage space is limited to fist-sized bins at the bottom of the doors and map pockets on the front seatbacks.
The trunk offers plenty of space. With 15 cubic feet of volume, the Cruze trunk matches the best in class, with substantially more room than what’s available in the Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla (12.5 and 12.3 cubic feet, respectively). The opening is large, and the trunk lid parks straight up and well out of the way.
The rear seatbacks fold easily to expand truck space, but the bottom cushions are fixed, so the expanded surface is not entirely flat. The height of the pass-through space limits the size of objects that will slide through, and there are no tie-down points to easily secure something that might turn into a weighty projectile in a sudden stop. There are hooks for a cargo/grocery net just inside the trunk opening.
Although it isn’t perfect, the Cruze is one of the best all-around models in the compact-car pack.
The Cruze is available with two four-cylinder engines; the base displaces 1.8 liters, producing 138 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. The upgraded engine is actually smaller, at 1.4 liters, but its turbocharger produces the same amount of horsepower, but with an additional 23 pound-feet of torque.
Cruze’s powertrain isn’t glaringly weak, but it’s not one of the highlights in its portfolio. We found the 1.4-liter turbo engine does an adequate job of propelling the Cruze. It’s impressively smooth and reasonably quiet, even when working hard, and at 75 mph hour on the freeway, it’s only turning about 2800-2900 rpm in top gear. The power comes on fairly low in the rev range, and then evenly all the way to redline.
Still, the Cruze is slower than most cars in this class. On paper, it accelerates from 0-60 mph in the high 8-second range, which is quick enough for the average driver. Our complaint is more about how hard the engine is working in the process, and how you really need to keep it floored to get this car to go.
Transmission choices include a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic. We found the manual more enjoyable to drive, and it’s the most economical choice for those who don’t mind (or who even enjoy) rowing through the gears.
The 6-speed automatic is fine for driving at a relaxed, fairly casual pace. Shifts are smooth, but it seems pokey in instances when you need power fast, like when merging or passing. You really have to floor it once you hit the freeway or a patch of mountainous road. Most likely this is a symptom of the Cruze’s gearbox being optimized for fuel economy. On top-of-the-line Cruze models equipped with paddle shifters, drivers can eek a bit more out of the transmission by shifting manually, however, we doubt most drivers will use this feature while slogging through their daily commute.
One important way the Cruze surpasses much of its competition is in its tight, ultra-solid body/frame structure, which provides a solid foundation for a lot of good things that make Cruze pleasant to drive.
Interior comfort is one of them. Very little vibration finds its way into the Cruze cabin, and it’s one of the quietest compacts we’ve driven, even with its little, hard-working engine. There is very little wind noise, and not much of the high-pitch mechanical or vibration buzz that can come across as white noise.
The solid body also contributes to excellent ride and handling. Even without a fully independent rear suspension (something that can make cars of this type jittery and prone to bounce in the rear), the Cruze’s ride is nearly flawless. It absorbed mid-winter potholes with the aplomb of a luxury sedan, without a lot of bounce-rebound-bounce, or anything close to mushiness or float. In total, this compact leads the pack in ride quality, but it isn’t sluggish. Cruze models fitted with the sport suspension have a firmer quality, but are still comfortable.
In wintry weather we found the Cruze more than able, even with its standard all-season tires. Its lithe, balanced quality helps the Cruze on slippery roads, because if the driver is reasonably smooth, there won’t be any body swaying that can shift weight, upset traction and make the car harder to manage, as if there were a giant bowling ball rolling around in its shell. Traction control and electronic stability control further help the driver stay safe and planted.
Electric power steering on the Cruze is reasonably well sorted. It requires almost no effort to turn at low speeds, but resistance builds somewhat as speeds increase. The steering is also fairly quick, to the point that a driver might have to correct and re-adjust the car’s trajectory through a curve, because the wheel was initially turned too much.
The new Cruze diesel is fitted with a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder and the 6-speed automatic, as well as the same sport suspension found on 1LT models and above. The chassis, steering and brakes feel the same as on other Cruze models. Although it can seem sluggish off the line, there’s plenty of pep around town once the turbocharger spools up. With 264 lb.-ft. of torque, the Cruze diesel has considerably more low-end thrust than other Cruze models, yet it doesn’t feel overly torquey like some small diesel engines. At idle and at slow speeds, there is a moderate amount of noise and vibration characteristic of a diesel engine, especially when the engine is cold. But on the freeway, the diesel’s grumblings are imperceptible.
Fuel economy estimates for the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze diesel are an excellent 27/46 mpg City/Highway, but, like all fuel economy ratings, they will vary depending on drive style. On a 250-mile drive using mostly freeways, with little regard to fuel economy, we ended up with an average of 34.4 mpg. At one point, we achieved a high of 35 mpg, but most of the time, it hovered around the 34 mpg mark. Although that’s not anywhere near the estimated 46 mpg highway, that’s still above the EPA-estimated combined estimate of 33 mpg. Range was also notable, as we were able to go the first 200 miles on only a quarter of a tank of gas.
Cruze Eco models are fitted with additional aerodynamic enhancements and low-rolling-resistance tires, and are lighter than other Cruze models, which all help to achieve an EPA-estimated 28/42 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission, and 26/39 mpg with the automatic. The Cruze Eco’s outstanding mileage ratings will no doubt appeal to many compact drivers, but Eco’s low-rolling-resistance tires will be harder and offer less grip than those on other models, which tends to adversely affect both ride and handling. For those who rack up lots of freeway mileage, the superior range and fuel economy of the diesel engine could be worth the extra investment.
The Chevrolet Cruze is a solid choice among compact sedans. It has plenty of standard features, good fuel economy, and a roomy interior, but falls off a bit in power and performance, and gets expensive at the high end of the model range. The new diesel model is an efficient but pricey alternative for those who rack up lots of freeway miles.
NewCarTestDrive.com senior correspondent Laura Burstein reported from Los Angeles.